For…

I grow weary…very weary, of the Christian marketing machine, of doctrinal grenades tossed into theological foxholes, as if the biggest enemy is the one whose faith in the resurrected Jesus is nuanced different than our own.  Walking down the streets of Seattle years ago, I encountered a man who was distributing Bibles and leaflets, inviting people to know Christ.  When he offered me a Bible I held up my hand and said, “No thanks, I have several already.  I’m a believer.”

He turned and faced me directly: “Have you been baptized with the Holy Spirit, and given evidence of that by speaking in tongues?”

“Baptized yes.  Tongues, not really.”

“Then you’re not saved,” he said, which led to an escalating Bible war, as we each pulled out our favorite scripture weapons to defend our pneumatology, as if anyone cared.  The only person in listening distance who cared was a woman who, upon hearing us, said to her partner as she passed by, “That’s why I left the church.”

Sure, there are limits, doctrinal fences and boarders, beyond which one can’t be considered to be in the stream of historic orthodoxy.  But the discussions about election, speaking in tongues, who will be “left behind” and when, and precisely who is or isn’t in hell are mostly misguided.  Here’s why:

These discussions presume that we know more than we do. Just a quick glance at church history can show you that we’ve considered ourselves to be right lots of times, when the reality is that we were wrong.  This is because we bring a cultural lens to our reading of the Bible.  Even though the Holy Spirit truly does teach us as we read the Bible, such a promise makes no claim that we’ll have some sort of perfect interpretation, any more than the Bible ever claims that we’ll be perfect people here in time, in these imperfect bodies.  Paul tells us that which is of first importance:

Jesus died for our sins.

Jesus rose from the dead.

That changes everything, including the destiny of bodies, the trajectory of human history, the means of dealing with grief and loss, the way we can love enemies, the way we can care for those on the margins, the way we can believe that God is able to intervene in history supernaturally, therefore leading us to pray, which leads to intimacy, which leads to fruit, hope, joy, forgiveness, guidance and so much, much more.

“Ah,” the doctrinal warriors says, “but none of this works if the earth isn’t 6,000 years old, or if you don’t speak in tongues, or if you can’t subscribe to the notion that the image of God in humanity was completely obliterated when Adam sinned, or if you believe that health care, or small government, or big government is a good idea. IF YOU DON’T BELIEVE LIKE I DO…YOU’RE NOT IN, YOU’RE OUT”

Really?  Even though we both claim Jesus is Lord?  Even though we both subscribe to the things Paul says are of “first importance”?  How did we come to this embarrassing situation, shooting each other all the time? Rob Bell vs. John Piper.  Emergent vs. Neo-Orthodox.  Republican Christianity vs. Democratic Christianity. “I am of Paul.  I am of Apollos.  I am of Christ”?  The Apostle Paul has a name for this kind of behavior:  immaturity.

How about this for an alternative:

Let’s become known as those who are FOR God’s story in the world, rather than AGAINST each other.  Our message is, after all, called “good news”.  God is for the poor.  God is for justice.  God is for reconciliation.  God is for forgiveness.  God is for freedom, wholeness, beauty, celebration, healing, joy.

Listen:  We’re writing future history today. When the world looks back at the beginning of the 21st century, what will they see?  Holy Wars?  Jihads?  Doctrinal grenades?  Yes… but it’s not too late to write a different story, to paint a different picture:

1. Love your neighbors, and your enemies.  Show, somehow, that it’s not just an idea.  The reconciliation project in Rwanda might inspire to believe that it’s possible to forgive those who’ve wronged us.

2. Find a way to be a blessing where you live.  Work with immigrants.  Volunteer to teach something.  Serve…there are a thousand ways, and the Bible says this—not arguing about doctrinal nuances, is pure religion.

3. Create beauty. A well-cooked meal; a marriage built to last through daily vulnerability, kindness, honesty, endurance, romance; a painting or pottery lovingly created; a child loved; a prayer offered; a book written; a relationship built; a gift given; these are the colors of hope.

My new book is about this.  Colonialism, crusades, slavery, oppression, land theft, and environmental degradation spilled the colors blood and destruction on the canvass past centuries.  It’s been ugly, too often, in too many places.

Now it’s our turn. The Colors of Hope invites God’s people to paint a different picture on the canvass of our world—using God’s colors of hope to create something beautiful.  We can become known by what we’re FOR… God’s justice, mercy, and love.

Why is it so easy for God’s people to divide, and so hard to be known as people of justice, mercy, and love?  I welcome your thoughts!

PS: As I get ready to spread the word about this book, I’ll be asking for a little help.  For starters, if anyone knows how to work with Facebook to alter the standard pages, I could use your help as I build a page for my book.  Please let me know if you’re interested and able to help with the tech side of building the page.

About Richard Dahlstrom

As Pastor of Bethany Community Church in Seattle, Richard teaches with vision of "making the invisible God visible" by calling people to acts of service and blessing. It's working, as a wilderness ministry, homeless shelter, and community meals that serve those living on the margins are all pieces of Bethany's life. "We're being the presence of Christ" he says, "and inviting everyone to join the adventure." Many have, making Bethany one of the fastest growing churches in America in 2009 according to Outreach Magazine.

  • Ken

    Well said.

  • sp

    love love love that message Richard. Breath of fresh air.

  • http://practicingresurrection.wordpress.com joeywahoo

    Great post. It reminds me of something John Wesley wrote in 1765:

    “How dreadful and how innumerable are the contests which have arisen about religion. And not only among the children of this world…but even among the children of God….How many of these, in all ages, instead of turning against the common enemy, have turned their weapons against each other, and so not only wasted their precious time, but hurt one another’s spirits, weakened each other’s hands, and so hindered the work of their common Master! How many of the weak have hereby been offended! How many sinners confirmed in their disregard of religion, and their contempt of those who profess it….

    Men may differ from us in their opinions, as well as their expressions, and nevertheless be partakers with us of the same precious faith….Why should you condemn all who do not speak just as you do?…Where is our religion if we cannot think and let think.”

  • Wayne Bays

    Well said. First, Richard, then Joey. This discussion could start an amazing work if we all start acting out of our passion for the way of Christ, through whatever gifting we have been blessed with.
    Paul would agree so far and his words, “I am all things to all, so that I may win some. That Florida pastor who did the celebratory burning of the Koran is a good example of what those who are still operating in the fallen human nature are thinking. I thought that someone could be very effective for Christ if they would study the Koran enough to speak well of how it compares to Scripture. Then invite everyone to an ‘open-minded’ discussion of how similar they are. The same could be done with Buddism, eastern thinking, communism, etc. Then maybe we could do like Paul and compare their unknown God to Yahweh, and maybe even win a few.
    Amen?

  • Juliet

    This is a great post. Thank you.

  • seattlerunnergirl

    I was just having a conversation with a friend yesterday who is dipping her toe in the waters of faith. And she was saying that at an earlier time, she had done so but left the church because of how much she didn’t understand. This time, she has found the freedom that she doesn’t have to have the answers to everything, or even understand it all, so long as she understands and embraces the essentials.

    My thought to her, and reminder to myself, is that all the peripheral stuff is interesting and maybe even important, but not essential. Do you believe in a loving God? Do you believe that he gave his only son to willingly pay the price for your sins? Do you accept that gift and ask God’s Holy Spirit to live in your heart as evidence of that gift?

    Well then. That’s all that matters.

  • Katie

    Thanks for this post, Richard! I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. It really is embarrassing to see proclaimed members of the Body of Christ so vehemently fighting over things other than those of “first importance”. How is that being a people of justice, love and mercy?

    Their approach is all wrong. I know it is good to raise questions, to discuss, and to be challenged as believers in the things of first importance. My hope is that we, as members of the Body, can do this in a mature way — in a way that is loving, that is a blessing, and that creates beauty. It is a struggle, I know. But it is a good struggle.

  • Karis

    Great words. Could you post on the divisiveness of worship styles as well?

  • http://literaryitinerary.wordpress.com literaryitinerary

    amen. well written, richard.

    i’m not tech-savvy, but would be willing to help in any ways with regards to the new book. keep me posted if there is anything i can do.

    blessings.

  • katie kilgore

    Please ask the publishers to Kindle-ize it! And your other book too! Anxiously awaiting the new book

  • http://www.mphotographyonline.ca Jay mcintyre

    Richard, I love it!

    I’m pretty far away I’m Toronto but have had dome success using pages for our church as well as for my photography business. I’d love to help you out. Feel free to contact me.

    • Hannah

      Hi Jay!!! We are blog reading buddies!! – Hannah

      • http://www.jmphotographyonline.ca jay Mcintyre

        Haha

        I love to read Richard and I love Hannah!
        I also knew you would love to read Richard.

  • Brad Davis

    Nice work Richard. However I find too many evangelical authors, when writing about such subjects, add the caveat “doctrinal fences and boarders, beyond which one can’t be considered to be in the stream of historic orthodoxy.” Do they do that in order not to be accused? Isn’t that the mindset leading to the doctrinal wars, divisions and endless parade of denominations? I am beginning to think there are as many ways of being Christian as there are Christians. The seeds of these religious wars were planted by Luther and watered by the blood of Michael Servetus. Not until the church goes through another reformation will it stop. The reformation must involve a total restructuring of what we think it means to be Christian. One away from beleieving propositional truth to being people of faith… people of love, simply followers of Christ rather than “studiers of the Bible.” I think James (the neglected protestant book) had something to say about this.

    • raincitypastor

      Those are great thoughts Brad, but I don’t know that I can ever fully leave the ‘fences’ piece out. What if I utterly repudiate the person and work of Christ, but simply go about ‘loving others’? The Bible also has something to say about that: “Many will say to me…we did cool stuff. I (Jesus) will say… I never knew you.” My paraphrase of Matthew 7 is reminder that the centrality of Christ needs to be upheld. Of course, of one actually does this, one won’t destroy one’s theological enemies as happened so often in church history

  • Nate

    Great post. I’m glad that you take the “In non-essentials, liberty” so seriously.

    In other news, I’ve had some work with facebook pages in the past. I would love to help you out with yours.

  • http://tentmakinginpoland.blogspot.com/ Brendan Thatcher

    I love where you said, “These discussions presume that we know more than we do.” I’ve always been a firm believer that no one can judge someone else’s relationship with God perfectly. We as humans do not have the authority or discernment to judge salvation- that’s between God and man, not man and man!

  • Adrienne

    Richard,

    Arguing over things like who goes to heaven and who doesn’t, whether my batism is valid or not are not (in my mind) important enough to fight over. But, with the release of Rob Bell’s latest video on his upcoming book, discussion has been coming forth with me an my friends over the validity of heaven and hell. What disheartens me is that my friend is turning his back on scriputure such as “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one can come to the father except through me” and saying that Jesus is present in every religion and that he doesn’t need to worry about the state of someone’s soul. He thinks that we should love each and other and share Jesus’s teachings. He also had issues with an angry God and God of wrath. I believe that there are fundamentals of Christianity that are worth fighting about, like Jesus being the one true way. I don’t think its immature. I think its basic, and with these latest statements from Rob Bell it seems he is going down a path of Universalism and there are many Christians in America following him. I take issue when my friend is telling me these things that he never believed before and is currently in seminary to be a youth pastor.

    I don’t want to condemn anyone, and I don’t think that is a way to love like Christ calls us to love. I think that we have no right or ability to issue statements of the state of someone’s soul and whether they belong in heaven. How do you walk this fine line? Also I’ve been trying to find your sermon online about the Temple and cannot!

  • Lamont

    Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people. For certain individuals whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. Jude 3 & 4.

    • raincitypastor

      no disagreement Lamont – but what does that mean? You and I agree that Christ died for our sins, agree that Christ is the way, truth, life – that nobody comes to the Father except through Him. We agree that humanity is broken, and that Christ alone is the answer. Do we share the faith of which Jude speaks, even though we don’t agree on election/free will..the meaning of ‘total depravity’, or the role of women in ministry? My complaint shouldn’t be read as an endorsement of universalism… but rather as a declaration that the core truths of which Jude speaks might not include every nuance of the doctrines over which we fight so often.

      • Lamont

        Though the Emergent movement has a few things right, things which you clearly point out in your post, i.e. the poor, justice, reconciliation etc. Emergent church being the result of the “Mega-Material-Church, plastic relationship movements” such as Willow Creek, and Saddle Back etc.
        Some are quite worried that the movement also has a dangerous side to it, i.e. is Brian McClaren a “Wolf in sheeps clothing?” He very well could be!
        Phil Johnson calls the movement “Modernism 2.0.”
        Without root in the scriptures the movment is bound to die. Isn’t this the next “fad” unlike the movement they’re complaining about.
        Speaking of church history, The verse in Jude is a reminder for balance. We are to “contend” for the faith!
        Devastating movements come from w/in the church! Remember Rome? Thank God for Calvinsist’s like Luther!
        My comment was mainly concerned w/the labeling of John Piper as “Neo-Orthodox” which is (I believe) a derogatory term. You’ve also used the label “Neo-Calvinist.” Piper, a Reformed Baptist, holds to the historical 1789 London baptist confession. I think the Neo-Orthodox label would be more appropriate for the likes of Barth and Brunner.
        I think its okay to call someone on their doctrine, though, it seems, the emergent group has a disdain for, not only doctrine, but knowing anything for sure?
        Don’t you agree w/them on that as well? I.E. if you know, its not faith?
        Remember, Paul got in Peter’s face in front of a whole crowed because of the circumcision movement.
        Lastly, I find that people who use the excuse; “That’s why I don’t go to church” I wonder if they don’t go to work because they can’t agree on anything? Or, the tavern? Wonder if they’re married?

        As the saying go’s… The moment you walk into a perfect church… you’ll ruin it!

      • http://girlwithflathat.blogspot.com Juliet

        “Lastly, I find that people who use the excuse; ‘That’s why I don’t go to church’ I wonder if they don’t go to work because they can’t agree on anything? Or, the tavern? Wonder if they’re married?”

        The point isn’t that it’s an excuse for them, Lamont, it’s condemnation for us. It seems to me this post was supposed to provoke introspection and perhaps even repentance, but somehow you’ve managed to turn it into judgment on others.

        I can think of instances where my emphasis on doctrine has driven people away from Jesus Christ, and I regret those deeply. Here on the web, we don’t know who is reading what we write and who might be further driven away from the truth because something we think is important is actually secondary, but we let it overshadow the gospel. For this reason I have tried to write cautiously or not at all on this blog recently; I want to give whoever is reading my words (which might not be the intended audience, who probably doesn’t need to hear anything from me anyway) reasons FOR the gospel, not reasons to use against receiving it. People work for money and personal fulfillment; they marry for companionship and children. What reason will we give someone FOR going to church?

      • Lamont

        To Juliet.
        “I’m Catholic, and while we have our own doctrinal debates, the whole Piper vs. Bell thing isn’t one of them, so it’s not on my radar, and I, as (I would guess) the majority of Christians worldwide and probably even American Christians, find it irrelevant.”

        I agree. But those who are concerned about the God’s word, and are called to defend it (which, btw, is every X-tian), see it differently then you do. I don’t know about the world, but as for American X-tians, I’d have to agree with you there!
        Many American X-tians are clueless that the Roman Catholic Church still holds that they are accursed because they believe that they are saved by faith alone in Christ alone. I ask you, am I rude because I point out the truth? Yet, that is what Rome teaches whether you agree with it or not.

        “I’ve noticed that you’ve gone nine rounds with pretty much everyone you’ve debated on this blog and eventually we’ve all simply given up, yet you insist (and sometimes rather rudely, I think, to Pastor Richard) we continue arguing until we agree with you.”

        Correct. And some times I’ve agreed with things written here. Is rudeness a one way street? I’ve eaten crow a few times on this blog and have asked forgiveness for it. I think this is right! My immaturity has come out a few times, and I’ve recognized that and delt with it. Other times, when my beliefs have been attacked, mischaracterized, and/or I’ve asked him to give an account for the context etc… what do I hear? Crickets… Paul commended the Berean’s for holding him to account.

        “You once commented that Pastor Richard doesn’t have time for the truth, since he won’t continue arguing about Calvinism with you.”

        I suppose if I make uninformed statements about Roman Catholicism, that’s just ok? No need for accuracy? Then each time you point out my errors, well, I’m just too busy, but I persist in making uninformed i.e. false statements?
        I don’t think you’d like it. Isn’t scripture given for reproof, correction, and training in righteousness? 2 Tim.

        “Why do you have to be the one to convince him of the truth?”
        Why not me?
        “…God can probably manage that Himself…”
        Why does God send people out to preach the Gospel? Can’t He manage that Himself? Or did God ordain the ways and the means?
        “…then I’m sure He has plenty of other options.”
        Me too! But, apparently He’s been using me. If you want, you could take a look at those verses Richard’s used as proof texts and show me how the contexts support his view. That’s all I’ve asked.
        “Unless you think people who disagree with you on certain points of doctrine aren’t saved (which maybe you do, and I heartily disagree when it comes to a lot of those points, but if that’s what you believe, then so be it)…”
        The Bible teaches that anyone who does not believe that you are saved by faith alone in Christ alone is not saved. And any church, person etc… that teaches anything contrary to that is anti-Christ.
        “I don’t see why arguing about doctrine is more important than getting people into church in the first place.”
        Mormon Church? Jehovah’s Witness’? Christian Science? Buddhist temple? Islam? How about the Protestant Reformation? Do you think that was important?
         “All you said may very well be true, but I don’t think arguing about it – and in a very public forum like the Internet where who knows who will be reading it – is going to bring the unchurched into church. You said, “We’ve all heard people make all the excuses for not going to church, or, not believing and whatever.” It seems to me you’re making excuses for writing off that unchurched lady and instead arguing with fellow believers when you should be doing the opposite. I care more whether that lady who is alienated from the church believes in Jesus the Son of God as her savior than I do about whether (insert name of doctrine or theologian here) is right or wrong. Whatever my disagreements with you, I don’t think your soul is at stake, so I’d rather convince her that the gospel is true than convince you that I am right.
        You and I agree on the same issue! But good theology exists, because bad theology must be answered! There is a difference between an argument and a quarrel! Christians are not to quarrel (Paul said that)! We should be willing to go to the Scriptures and wrestle, and reason from them w/one another. Juliet, I challenge you to go back through some of these blog entries that you’ve pointed out I’d been so disagreeable. I ask you; ‘Who has appealed to scripture?’ My frustration is, time and time again, I appeal to scripture, and it’s ignored time and time again. Not one person has ‘ever even attempted’ to show that I’d taken scripture out of context, to prove what I have stated is unbiblical, nothing! They just give their opinion that I’m wrong! Big fat so what?
        “I became a Christian when I believed in Jesus, not in a checklist of doctrines.”
        You can’t know Jesus any other way! Only the Bible tells us who Jesus is! You have to know doctrine to know Jesus! Is Jesus the created Spirit brother of Lucifer, like the Mormons believe? Is Jesus the Arch Angel Michael of the Watchtower Bible and tract society? Is He just another way among many way’s to God? Perhaps you don’t think we should argue about those interpretations either?
        “(By the way, I don’t think “Bible doctrine” is a comprehensible phrase – I think the Bible and doctrine are two different things – but the fact that you apparently think the Bible and doctrine are identical and I don’t is another argument.)”
        It is one internally consistent book, that it alone teaches us who God is, who man is, mans state and responsibility before God, etc… You can’t separate it. I think this would be a good topic to broach.
        “The church in this country is stagnating and the church in the rest of the world is flourishing because the rest of the world realizes that preaching the gospel isn’t the same thing as poaching members of the church across the street.”
        No, the church is stagnating because it no longer knows what the gospel is, and X-tians have a shallow knowledge of the bible.

        I appreciate what you’ve said. I share your concern, yet see it differently.
        I appreciate that at least you’re willing to engage me. I would appreciate that if you disagree with what I say and believe, perhaps you would ask me “why” I believe like I do!
        God bless you!
        Lamont.

      • Juliet

        Lamont, once again, and perhaps for the last time: I give up. This is not to say that I’m incapable of answering you. It’s just that I don’t owe you that, and I think when we engage in these kind of arguments, no matter whether we think we are defending God’s truth, we feel that we deserve the satisfaction of proving ourselves right. I certainly feel this way, but it is the wrong reason to argue. You may be sowing seeds, but you will not see the fruit. If you are called by God then you will be content with that.

        I am also convicted by Pastor Richard’s last post. More than anything else, I am called to a relationship with Jesus. I don’t leave you with any ill will, but I do not feel that this discussion with you is bringing me any closer to Jesus Christ. I know for my part that I am tempted to engage in futile debates that don’t really change anyone’s hearts and don’t bring either party closer to God. If you feel that these arguments are productive, then I respect that, but I always regret getting into them, because they do not make me any more of a loving person, they do not bring me closer to Jesus, and they do not change anyone’s mind.

        May God bless you as well and give you true joy as we approach the celebration of Christ’s resurrection.

      • Ken

        Wow Lamont. That was a mouthful. Funny that Jesus spent a great deal of time focused on condemning the ultra-religious folk of His day more than those whose doctrine wasn’t perfect. He quoted more scripture pointing out their failure to live the Truth of God than he did for the tax collectors and prostitutes. The “sinner’s” sinfulness was obvious and Jesus’ empathy and compassion for them was as well. He rarely gave such respect to the Pharisees of the day that spent many words defending their religiousness. Makes me wonder when I witness someone who knows and worships the scripture so fervently as you apparently do what sort of impact you might have for the kingdom if you laid down the sword and picked up on some of the other aspects of Jesus’ example. Less “whips in the temple” and more “let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” Less zealousness and courage to beat with the Word and more humble, sensitive, loving, empathetic, forgiving or understanding as Christ was. As Juliet pointed out, you’re doing little to bring anyone closer to Jesus or to change anyone’s mind. You should think about that and consider if beating people with scripture is really your calling.

    • Lamont

      Juliet.
      I respect your opinion. I can agree with what you’ve said, and I can also disagree.
      What really irks me is the willingness of X-tians to sacrifice truth on the alter of unity!
      We’ve all heard people make all the excuses for not going to church, or, not believing and whatever.
      Your right! Bible doctrine is divisive!
      It was designed to be so. Did you know that the Bible even states this? It divides soul from spirit, Joints from marrow, sheep from goats! Christ’s sheep will be drawn to it, the goats will be repelled! Do you trust it? Does anyone take actually listen to what the Bible says anymore? Paul told Timothy to: “be sure of your life, and be sure of your doctrine.”
      The Rob Bell’s, Brian Mclarens, and Joel O’Steen’s, and the like, need to be exposed for what they are teaching. These guy’s are the product of shallow “make Christianity pretty” for the unbeliever “evanjellyfishism” entertainment gospel.
      I find Richard’s use of John Piper as an example out of line though. John Piper has a great love for God’s flock and the lost.
      Piper would never allow a leader from an apostate church preach to his flock from his pulpit! We are called to defend the faith. I think Piper should have been given the benefit of the doubt concerning Bell (and the Emergent movement). Bell is playing games w/the history and the truth. http://networkedblogs.com/fxXwm

      May God bless the reading of His Word.

      • http://girlwithflathat.blogspot.com Juliet

        I respect your opinion as well, Lamont, but I note that you didn’t answer my last question. Let me point out some areas of disagreement between us:

        1. You know the adage, “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail?” My corollary is: if you are absolutely dedicated to a certain theology, then you want to have the same debate with everyone. I’m Catholic, and while we have our own doctrinal debates, the whole Piper vs. Bell thing isn’t one of them, so it’s not on my radar, and I, as (I would guess) the majority of Christians worldwide and probably even American Christians, find it irrelevant. You can riff on that topic all you want, and maybe you are right, but I simply don’t think it’s that important and I don’t think it’s productive to argue about it (see Pastor Richard’s original post). I’ve noticed that you’ve gone nine rounds with pretty much everyone you’ve debated on this blog and eventually we’ve all simply given up, yet you insist (and sometimes rather rudely, I think, to Pastor Richard) we continue arguing until we agree with you. You once commented that Pastor Richard doesn’t have time for the truth, since he won’t continue arguing about Calvinism with you. Why do you have to be the one to convince him of the truth? God can probably manage that Himself, and if He’s going to use someone to persuade him, then I’m sure He has plenty of other options.

        2. Unless you think people who disagree with you on certain points of doctrine aren’t saved (which maybe you do, and I heartily disagree when it comes to a lot of those points, but if that’s what you believe, then so be it), I don’t see why arguing about doctrine is more important than getting people into church in the first place. (This is why Paul chose to stand or fall on the hill of circumcision – to make it clear that the gospel was for Gentiles and not just for Jews, thus fulfilling Jesus’ commandment to preach the gospel to all nations.) All you said may very well be true, but I don’t think arguing about it – and in a very public forum like the Internet where who knows who will be reading it – is going to bring the unchurched into church. You said, “We’ve all heard people make all the excuses for not going to church, or, not believing and whatever.” It seems to me you’re making excuses for writing off that unchurched lady and instead arguing with fellow believers when you should be doing the opposite. I care more whether that lady who is alienated from the church believes in Jesus the Son of God as her savior than I do about whether (insert name of doctrine or theologian here) is right or wrong. Whatever my disagreements with you, I don’t think your soul is at stake, so I’d rather convince her that the gospel is true than convince you that I am right.

        You might attract other Christians to your church or I to mine by these arguments, but one of the tragedies of American Christianity is that it is incredibly parasitic on itself. I have played this game too, going from church to church over twenty years (partly out of spiritual and theological development, partly because I move a lot), but I am firmly convinced I was saved when I believed in Christ twenty years ago, not when I started going to Bethany or was confirmed as a Catholic or any other moment. I became a Christian when I believed in Jesus, not in a checklist of doctrines. (By the way, I don’t think “Bible doctrine” is a comprehensible phrase – I think the Bible and doctrine are two different things – but the fact that you apparently think the Bible and doctrine are identical and I don’t is another argument.) The church in this country is stagnating and the church in the rest of the world is flourishing because the rest of the world realizes that preaching the gospel isn’t the same thing as poaching members of the church across the street.

        (My apologies for writing, as always, at ridiculous length.)

      • Ken

        Very well and respectfully said, Juliet.

        I’m just starting to read Tim Keller’s book “The Reason for God.” He has some fascinating things to say about how Christianity is so very unique in penetrating all different cultures with the Gospel speaking in unique ways to each native culture. Amazing how I never thought about that character of the Faith to adapt so well culturally. No other religion does that. What’s interesting about that to this debate is how it shows just how much these particular issues raised by Lamont are American and perhaps European details which fortunately are failing to hinder God’s work globally. For that we can give eternal praise.

  • thefoutz

    Everything you said is really important to say. It’s very easy to get lost in the details of the Christian life that we’ve been called into. As you’ve said quite often, Jesus is not physically here with us. I think that this means we often focus on those who are here with us physically and slowly let their presence usurp the Holy Spirit’s power in our lives. The death of Jesus is central, but it’s important to say it and then say it again. Us humans really are like sheep and we need constant reminders of what is important and what is not important; even the best of us get sidetracked with being “missional” or “culturally relevant”.
    Richard I think that writing a book on the subject is great, but I also think – and I’m sure you realize this too – that it is no way the last word. In response to Brian’s comment about having another reformation so all this division will stop, I don’t think it will ever fully stop. I think the problem of fighting the fighting so to speak is a battle that must be constantly fought until the end. Thanks Richard for continuing to preach the word and for keeping the cross in the center.

  • Graham

    Late to the party but a couple thoughts. I feel the whole blogosphere uproar over the Rob Bell book (which isn’t out yet) has gotten a little too “Charlie Sheen,” i.e. too much media hubbub, and strainging to make a story out a non-story. For example John Piper tweets three words, “Farewell Rob Bell” and oh, snap! suddenly it’s a knockout dragout fight of Bell vs Piper? The battle armeggedon of Traditional Evangelical vs the Emergent Pastor? The struggle over the “soul of the American church” (I read this somewhere)? I’m not so sure. I’m not saying at all there aren’t rifts and disagreements that are hurting the witness of the Church. I just feel that this story has been sensationalized by people who want to pick a fight theologically.
    I haven’t seen the video, nor will I probably read Bell’s new book, (never finished Velvet Jesus…), but the question here is whether hell is a central tennet of the faith, one worth drawing a line in the sand and fighting over. I’d say no. You can be a Chrisitian and not believe in Hell. Is it bad doctrine? Probably. So maybe the question is do we need “doctrine police,” making sure that all that is preached, written, and blogged is orthodox? What is the place/ importance of doctrine in today’s church?

    • Adrienne

      Graham,
      I would encourage you to take a look at the video and read the book when it comes out and make up your own mind. I think Rob Bell has some things right, that acting in love is so vitally important. I by no means agree with the Piper either, I’ve been to a purely Calvinistic church and shunned. Never did I hate Christianity more. But I had a paradigm shift, God is reaching people through all these avenues and bringing people to Christ. And as long as that is being accomplished, it is good.

      I don’t debate. I left a church because I didn’t want to have to discuss what theologically I felt I couldn’t be apart of because I knew that they would never listen or understand. I didn’t want to fight, I wanted to love them for what they felt about women in the church and my baptism, but I couldn’t belong. On the other hand, when you redefine the basic’s of Christianity and claim that Jesus is in every religion? I will fight for my Jesus and the truth to be proclaimed.

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  • raincitypastor

    It is ironic to me that a post about being for justice, mercy, and koving God can elicit such strong reactions, while a post about the marvelous truth that the resurrected Jesus resides in the heart of each believer, enabling them to live lives of confidence, joy, and supernatural power, elicits no comments. I’m pondering why this is the case, and welcome your thoughts.


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